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Letter from Paris: To be, or not to be in prison

By the time the judge turned towards the empty chair to announce the verdict on Dec 19 afternoon, the accused was already on a flight to Washington.

The affair goes back to 2007 when Christine Lagarde, then finance minister of France under President Sarkozy, was required to intervene in a legal imbroglio involving a businessman named Bernard Tapie and the bank Crédit Lyonnais.

After a lengthy probe that involved testimonies from a number of bureaucrats, lawyers as well as bankers, the minister arbitrated a year later in favour of Tapie who was claiming the colossal sum of 405 million euros from the bank. The problem was that the bank was already defunct following a crash a few months earlier in which it had lost billions of euros.

Upon Lagarde’s orders Tapie was paid through public funds — in other words through taxpayers’ money. The scandal immediately took unprecedented proportions in the media and came to the centre of another investigation.

Christine Lagarde then onwards headed in quite another direction. When in the summer of 2011 the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn (a French citizen like herself) was involved in a sex scandal in New York and was shut up in Riker’s Island prison for the night of May 14, Lagarde replaced him a month later as the head of the IMF that has its headquarters in Washington.

Apparently she was a great success in her new post as only three years later she was ranked by the Forbes magazine among the five most powerful women in the world. She would complete her five years in office in July this year and was re-elected for a new five-year term.

Meanwhile in Paris, the inquiry continued into the Crédit Lyonnais affair. By this time the bank had changed its name to LCL, thus dropping all its previous engagements. On the other hand Tapie who had already been involved in another financial affair and was sent to prison for 165 days in 1997, was asked by the legal authorities in 2015 to return to the French government the 405m euros he had received under Lagarde’s orders.

At the same time a legal penal was formed to try Lagarde for what was now considered her dubious arbitrage in the Crédit Lyonnais affair. The team was headed by a judge, three magistrates, six senators and six members of the National Assembly.

The hearings took place in Paris since early this month. Lagarde with her assured, aquiline profile appeared very calm and smiling all through the trial and answered questions confidently. But on the final day she cracked up, sobbed and wiped tears repeatedly.

When the verdict was announced on Monday, Dec 19, she was no longer in the chair of the accused — but we have already said that!

She was deemed “guilty of negligence” and was awarded one year in prison plus a fine of 15,000 euros. The judge at the same time announced that the condemned, “given her personality and international image” would not be required to serve her sentence or pay the fine.

In Washington, the 24-member board of executives of the IMF held a special meeting a day after the Paris court’s verdict and announced that Legarde will stay in her seat as the managing director.

The reaction by the public, as well as by many a politician, is of dismay though not of surprise. For once the extreme right National Front leader Florian Philippot and the mildly leftist MoDem boss François Bayrou seem to agree that in today’s world justice appears to be a bi-dimensional phenomenon: “Your fate depends not on what you’ve done or not done, but on whether you’re a miserable or a powerful person.”

courtesy : dawn news

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